In the December 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several job seekers bemoan the state of employment:


  This week’s edition addresses submissions from several readers:

  • “I don’t understand it. I must have responded to over 50 job postings in the last month, and I haven’t gotten a single interview.”
  • caneI’ve completed over a dozen job applications, and I haven’t heard from one company.”
  • “The tight market puts employers and recruiters in the driver’s seat once again. Fewer jobs are available, and there’s a larger talent pool to choose from.”
  • “Companies that once had to make offers on the spot to snare candidates now have the luxury of time. They can postpone making hiring decisions until they find someone who meets all their criteria.”

The question behind all these plaintive protests is clear: Why am I not getting hired?

Nick’s Reply

Whoo-whee! It’s that time of the year — the best time of year to get a job. Companies are indeed hiring. They’re just not doing it the way you’d expect. They’re in a hurry but they don’t want to make mistakes. All across this blog, we discuss how to help employers make the decision to hire you. These concepts are laid out in how-to fashion in the Ask The Headhunter PDF books, and we’ll summarize some of them here.

If you’d like to buy one or more Ask The Headhunter books, I’ll offer you a holiday discount! Take a jolly 25% off your purchase by using discount code=JOLLY.

[Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]

Consider the logic of the frustrated job hunters above. It’s not logic at all. It’s pure frustration that stems from not being the right candidate. Who’s fault is that? Difficult as it might be to hear this, please listen:

  • Don’t approach a company if you’re not the right candidate.
  • Don’t make rationalizations when a company ignores you.

It’s true that many companies are hiring fewer people because things are tight, but that doesn’t mean they have the luxury of time. In fact, the opposite is often true. Some managers are under great pressure to fill precious slots before the year ends and budgets close (or are cut). Thus, employers are not hiring slowly because they can, but because they can’t get the right candidates. They are deluged with every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has a minute to submit an application — and those same managers are burdened with applicant tracking systems that can’t distinguish strong candidates from weak ones.

Remember that most hires are made via trusted referrals and personal contacts. Why? Because this is the most reliable source of good, appropriate candidates. When managers can’t get a hire through this preferred channel, they turn to lesser sources, like ads and resume submissions. They know the odds of finding a good candidate are low, but they, too, are frustrated and desperate. They need to fill a job now. Put that in your Santa’s pipe and smoke it — and you’ll sweep past your competition.

wreath‘Tis the season to be truly right. If you are the candidate a manager needs, you can capitalize on the rush to hire. You can give a manager the gift he’s been waiting for: your earthly presence. Help him to spend his budget and make the hire. Be ready to articulate your value, but do it face-to-face or on the phone.

Make it personal. Like Baba Ram Das said in 1976, “Be here now.” A resume doesn’t cut it. An application doesn’t cut it. When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not sure you’re the right candidate. You are afraid to face the manager because you have nothing compelling to say. If you’re the right candidate, then you have exactly what it takes to make a manager smile and say, “Yes!”

There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. You can be the truly right candidate for only one, or two, or maybe three different jobs. Pick them carefully. Study, prepare, create a business plan to prove your value to the specific manager, and go after those two or three jobs and no others.

Here’s the secret to showing an employer why she should hire you: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs for the company.

Excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, p. 8:

Identify your role in the profit equation
If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you contribute to revenues, the more value you add to the business.

If you work in information technology or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. (But, of course, every worker is part of a company’s costs.) High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs (also known as increasing efficiency) while performing a function necessary to help produce revenue.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. So, regardless of what your job is, ask yourself what you do to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? Explaining this to an employer helps you demonstrate your value.

The frustrated candidates who submitted the complaints above are not being dismissed because their resumes are lousy, but because they are cows. If you merely send in a resume, what’s the chance you are really the right candidate? If you rely on nothing but a dopey job posting, how can you know what a job is about or what a manager wants? Please: Be realistic. Take the most reliable, proven path to a job. If you are really the right candidate, prove it by getting referred by someone the hiring manager trusts.

hollysprigI know I sound a bit harsh. My suggestions seem like an unreasonable burden on a job hunter. The notion that it’s up to you to pick the right job creates a daunting task. And making personal contact with hard-to-reach managers is so difficult. This is all very hard work.

Yep. But so is the great job you want. The task of finding and winning it has never been easy. If you believe otherwise, you’re grasping at straws. You already know this isn’t simple. You already know that being dead-on for a job is a rare experience. But if you don’t make it happen, it’s not likely to happen on its own.

Take advantage of this high-pressure time when managers really do want to fill jobs. But don’t be casual about it. Get personal. Be the right candidate who picks the one right company, the one right job, then picks up the phone and delivers the solution a manager has on his wish list.

(For more on job hunting during the holidays, please read The Third Fallacy.)

The candidate who does all that is who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

These are some key tips to help you get the edge you need over your competitors:

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2014. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined here in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year! See you with the next edition on January 6!

Save a JOLLY 25%!

If you purchase one or more Ask The Headhunter PDF books in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore, please take advantage of this jolly holiday 25% OFF

When you order, use discount code=JOLLY and I’ll deduct 25% from your purchase price — no matter how many PDF books you buy! (This is a limited-time offer for the holidays! Expires Jan. 1, 2015!) [Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What methods of your own have you used successfully? Please share, and let’s discuss — what matters most is what works best out in the field!

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  1. Consider that some state labor departments require that you have 3 meaningful contacts a week. That is interpreted as interviews, or resume submissions, not phone calls.

    It becomes challenging for a mid-career individual to meet that requirement without falling prey to the resume mill.

  2. Once again Nick is right on. Six years ago in early December I was told I was being downsized. I immediately started working my network. A former boss introduced me to a headhunter who was recruiting for a job that was perfect for me and was an organization I really admired. By mid December I was interviewing with the hiring manager. I presented to him a written 100 day plan on how I would do the job and bring value to the organization. I started at the end of January with a 25% raise before my separation package from the last job even ran out. I’m still there, enjoying myself, and my salary has increased another 50%, something I never could have achieved in my old job.

  3. @Jim Jarvis: Interesting, isn’t it, that an entire industry exists to serve a requirement that unemployed people must show that they applied for jobs! More interesting still is that this unemployment program admits “proof” from job boards that don’t deliver jobs!

  4. @Alan: Thanks for sharing a great success story!

  5. @Alan and Nick: A lot has changed in 6 years or has that just happened in the financial sector?

  6. On the one hand you’ve commented that only 20% of available jobs are posted publicly, and on the other you say that we must zoom in on the one or two jobs that are truly right for us. How can we do that without knowing what jobs are available?

  7. @Gerry: I’m not sure where you found the claim that only 20% of jobs are posted publicly. It’s not from me. (If I err, please tell me where I said it.)

    It doesn’t matter what jobs are available. Those are the jobs that millions are applying for ahead of you in line. Your odds stink. The point is to get to know enough insiders in your field or business that you will be able to find out what’s coming down the pike. More important, when insiders know you and your abilities, it’s possible to suggest a position and fill it without one existing yet. That is, if you can show how you could help a company be more successful, a job can be created just for you. After all, companies don’t exist to fill jobs. They exist to make profits. Point the way to profits, employers will follow.

  8. @Marilyn: A lot has changed everywhere. But that’s not the point. Things are always changing. What really isn’t changing is that if you develop and work a network you greatly increase your odds on getting the right job for you.

    Was there a specific change you are talking about?

  9. If you applied for a job online, odds are you were lost in the hundreds or even thousands of mostly unqualified resumes that slammed the unfortunate employer. And if the job was aggregated, it may have already been filled months ago, because employers can’t keep track of who has copied their job posts. That’s one of the reasons networking is more effective than the big job boards.

  10. @JReid: That’s as good an analysis of job boards vs networking as I’ve ever heard. Thanks.

  11. If you can read the date on the posting, you can pretty much take care of that problem, and by checking frequently and responding only to new listings, you can do even better. I’m not disputing that networking is a better way of approaching a job search, but let’s not pretend that nobody ever gets jobs from the boards. Presumably, employers have means of filtering out “unqualified resumes” and if you have the listed qualifications, it shouldn’t get filtered. I know people who have received multiple interviews and offers after a few weeks working the boards, and the jobs seemed to me as good as they could expect given their experience and qualifications. Maybe they could have done better via networking, but I suspect this works better for more qualified and experienced applicants. If you’re entry-level or not far from it, boards may be a reasonable alternative.

  12. Let me preface with: this sounds like advice for landing an executive position, not middle-man joe. But therein lies the problem with modern employment.
    With that in mind, sorry, but Nick is *not* right-on here, and a rant is coming. I am not disagreeing with the crux of the article– the invaluability of networking– on the contrary. But it’s hard to count all the other wrong and insulting here.

    “It’s pure frustration that stems from not being the right candidate.” No, its frustration from being the right candidate, and not even being looked at. You yourself say that it’s impossible to get noticed without connections.

    “[referrals and trusted contacts are] the most reliable source of good, appropriate candidates.” Nonsense. If I had a nickel for every ‘buddy’ I’ve seen who turned out to be a turd, I wouldn’t need a job. Cronyism and the ‘friends and family plan’ is not a superior source of personnel.

    “When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not sure you’re the right candidate. You are afraid to face the manager because you have nothing compelling to say.” Marie Antoinette would be proud. This is just oblivious and offensive. Firstly, I posted this before but: how is it do you think an applicant ‘face the manager’? Even if you could get to the specific manger in any way, which is basically impossible for big companies, they could think you have initiative, or just piss them off. Maybe I should fly to Comcast headquarters and hit them up on their way in to the office? No one is hiding behind anything.
    When your advice is essentially, ‘magically know and be highly regarded by someone the hiring manager trusts’, that tells me you need to put down Santa’s pipe.
    I am in fact highly regarded, have references and a modest network, but what do you think the odds are of this happening on a nationwide scale of giant corporations?
    Secondly, sorry, I thought I was applying to maintain and tweak your equipment, not a TED talk.

    “You can be the truly right candidate for only one, or two, or maybe three different jobs…go after those two or three jobs and no others.” Yes, great odds and time usage there. And wait, didn’t you say to know someone in the company? I guess this has to miraculously align as well.
    One can be a good fit for far more than 2 jobs in the world. Much of the early days on a job is OJT anyway. And are we are supposed to only do exactly what we’ve done before?

    “If you merely send in a resume, what’s the chance you are really the right candidate?” Just as good as any other time. IF your job is HR, PR, etc then sure, but please elucidate the correlation between job-fitting and all this otherwise. There are 1000’s of people who’s main skill is *ahem* ‘networking’, NOT their actual job or pro-activity in that.

    “Study, prepare, create a business plan to prove your value to the specific manager”.
    This takes the cake. Firstly, this is assuming you’re even looked at, and perhaps the interview.
    Secondly, yes, because I not only know the manager, his scope of responsibility, his books, his budget, but I am more skilled and ingenious than the people doing that job already, while not being seen as a threat/troublemaker.
    Can I really “Identify my role in the profit equation” in a way that is novel or non-obvious? ‘Hey, I work very quick therefore you can make more stuff.’ No duh. Plus, everyone has those ‘saved X dollars and managed Y people’ etc on their resume.
    My value to the company is doing what I’m being hired to do well.
    UNLESS you are applying for that very sr position and have access to their info, this is just silly and pretentious.

    So we get back to the thrust– human networking– which I wholly agree is indispensable now.
    I am not applying for CEO, but in 2015, everyone has to become one, and it undermines not only the workforce, but the company itself. If companies believe the most important skill of all employees and promotees is ‘socialite politician and mind-blowing interviewer’ then all is truly lost. I have all the skills for jobs I need but those last ones.
    The system is totally broken that requires everyone run for president just to be employed.